Find something, no matter how small, that you’re psyched about. Even if it fails, it will be something that came from your heart.
As the first full-time designer at Cards Against Humanity (CAH) in Chicago, Emily Haasch wore a lot of hats and she wore them well. She built out the black and white Helvetica aesthetic of the game into a strong brand and then translated that into a website, store, and holiday campaigns. She also worked to establish a culture of design within the organization.
Before leaving Chicago for the Bay Area she worked with Max Temkin, CAH game designer, and Tanner Woodford, of the Chicago Design Museum, to conceptualize and commission designers for the recently released Design Pack. All proceeds from sales of this limited edition set of cards benefit the Chicago Design Museum (ChiDM). The pack includes designs from Paula Scher, Milton Glaser, Erik Spiekermann, Debbie Millman, Susan Kare and Jessica Hische.
Haasch has always maintained an array of side projects including beautiful minimalist collages, a serial zine of designer interviews, and a reading club for graphic designers. Her wry sense of humor comes through in all of her work, like the “404” pin and Male Tears sweatshirt “a sweatshirt specifically designed to absorb the tears of the patriarchy.”
What are some of your side projects?
I’ve recently been making enamel pins under the moniker “404”, which I like to see as my love letter to the internet. An older project of mine is a series of sweatshirts called “Male Tears,” which is an internet feminist joke that acts as its own pseudo streetwear brand. My most extensive and long-running side project is my art practice. I started putting my collages on Instagram recently, but have been making them since about 2010.
There are a lot of jokes embedded in the 404 pin site. Will you expand on that?
Humor is important to me and I use jokes as an entry point to a more serious dialogue. If you think about internet and tech in general, it’s a very fast moving industry, and can feel like it doesn’t have a history, but the internet actually has a dialogue and series of symbols within itself. As a designer I am really interested in these symbols and how nostalgia is important to people.
The last project you worked on at Cards Against Humanity combines of some of the interests revealed through your side projects: collaboration, curation, and of course, humor. Will you a bit on that project?
Cards Against Humanity has always considered itself a design-oriented company, but it is situated squarely in the gaming industry. They decided to create the Design Pack as a way to get exposure for the guest designers, to expose a broader audience to design, and for a cause: proceeds from the Design Pack benefit the the Chicago Design Museum, a nonprofit institution in Chicago dedicated to the preservation, education, and promotion of design history and culture within Chicago and the Midwest at large.
Cards Against Humanity wouldn’t have come to be without the legacy of comedians like George Carlin—he has a very famous skit called “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” that was groundbreaking in questioning censorship and limits of free speech within its time. We commissioned roughly two dozen designers to create an illustration of one of Carlin’s seven dirty words. Tanner and I collaborated on the roster of designers and we’re beyond pleased with the results.
You created a reading group for thinking critically about graphic design texts. What were the ideas behind the Design Book Club?
The Design Book Club was a collaboration with my colleague Alex Hayashi. It came out of both of our desires to analyze and discuss design critically, and organize Chicago-area designers around the idea of reading one amazing design book a month. We read books, watched films, and planned field trips to the museums and other institutions. The goal of the club was to educate ourselves, form a better bridge with the community, and connect design thinking to larger ideas of practice, commerce, work, and life.
Your publication Offline was also a collaborative venture, will you expand on that a bit?
I made Offline with my friend Darren Higgins. It’s a series of interviews with designers in the Chicago community that focuses on the nature of self-initiated projects by artists and designers in the area. We were both really young designers in school at the time and wanted a reason to talk to these more experienced designers to learn about their practice outside of work. We used the publication to try to find meaning between the conceptual nature of the art school we were going to at the time (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and a career path. Studios featured range from Practise, which is the studio of James Goggin & Shan James, to Knoed, which is more of a boutique branding and packaging studio.
Why do you engage with side projects?
They are a way to engage with questions present in art, design theory, and visual culture that aren’t readily answered through a day job or client work.
How do you see the relationship between your work and an audience?
Because of the fluidity of the internet you can test out an idea and see how it lives. In my view, releasing and distributing my work is as important as making the work. Creating a dialogue of response and appropriation with the audience can inform the work in ways that I wouldn’t have anticipated.
What is the relationship between your side projects and the other work you do as a designer?
I feel like the work I can do on the side — whether it be art, community projects, physical goods, or really odd websites — is a way to explore themes and ideas that might not be commercially ready or applicable to my full-time practice. This is especially so for being an in-house designer, where there’s usually a brand guideline or style I work within. That having said, a lot of work or thinking that originates from these projects often finds it’s way into my professional practice somehow.
A lot of work or thinking that originates from these projects often finds it’s way into my professional practice somehow.
When you take on a side project, how do you know if it was a success?
I don’t really rest on any notion of success. For example, regarding the Design Book Club, we never really had more than 4–8 people come to the meetings, which is not a huge turnout by most standards. However, Alex, myself, and some of the other members created a great dialogue around the texts and questioned a lot of longstanding notions we held about design and industry, so in that way, it was a success.
Sometimes, success is getting personal feedback from people. The best part of my “404” project, for instance, are the notes I received upon taking orders from folks. They are usually full of emojis and oddly worded messages noting their gratitude for the pin.
Who is someone you would like to do a side project with?
Shout out to Ben Pieratt! He is a designer known for his colorful and loose style and he helped establish Svpply, among other things. I have always looked up to his work and would love to collaborate on a project with him.
What are obstacles to making a side project and how do you overcome them?
The most obvious are money and time. There’s some overhead to getting things made and, being an artist, I am used to taking a loss on stuff. Carving time out of your day, maintaining a routine and social pressure to produce work all help.
EMILY HAASCH ON MOTIVATION
How to stay motivated when when working on self-directed projects.
Find something, no matter how small, that you are interested in and psyched about. It should be something you need to do for yourself—that’s what’s going to get you through the nights and weekends. Even if it fails, it will be something that comes from your heart.
Work with others.
For motivation, working collaboratively can help. Having another person to pick up the slack when you are busy with work, for example, or a partner to keep you motivated and on schedule always helps. It’s also great for perspective and feedback. In the case of the Design Book Club, my colleague Alex was always amazing at giving criticism and developing concepts I wouldn’t have thought of.
Know your community.
For me, I also like the idea of community. I enjoy making things that are fun for other people and include some sort of delight, puzzle, or reward for them (which could be knowledge, a fun experience, an object, or snacks). Response to your work from an audience is good motivation to keep going, and more importantly to continue to question why you’re doing what you do.
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